Deer stalking, or the “Pirsch” as it is known in many European countries is a very popular and common form of hunting around the world. As deer lack a natural predator in most countries today, they are very populous and managing deer populations is important to contain both damage to crops and to minimize outbreaks of disease. Stalking is a hunting method that is very accessible to beginner hunters but the skill ceiling is potentially endless. Some hunters specialize in advanced deer stalking by restricting use of equipment and choice of hunting grounds, where the hunt is extremely challenging. This article will focus on the basics of what you need to know in order to get out there and safely and efficiently stalk your first roe deer buck. If you are looking for a more brief, quick refresher you can check out this article about 5 quick tips for roe buck hunting instead.
The roe deer buck
The buck is easily distinguishable among roe deer, as he will carry antlers as opposed to the females and younglings. Most bucks will weigh around 25-40kg but they can reach up to 60kg of bodyweight. Deer meat is a delicious and healthy food source, but as always, an older buck will provide a different quality and tenderness than a yearling. As stalking is usually conducted in the warmer months of the year, the hunter should be prepared to act swiftly in the field to preserve the meat from a successfully stalked buck. Higher temperatures means that rot will set in quicker.
During late summer/early fall when most hunters are out to stalk, the buck will be dressed in his summer fur coating which is very bright and colorful with a reddish hue, as opposed to the thick but muted gray tones of the winter fur. Fine young bucks will carry antlers with 6 points, 3 on each side, and will exhibit a high degree of antler symmetry. The thickness of the antlers is also a sign of fitness, and the finest bucks are considered to be those with thick and high reaching antlers that are broad at the base of the skull such that there is no space in between. Their bodies will look more muscular than their older peers, who can still exhibit very strong antlers. Older bucks are said to be “returning”, meaning they have been at the peak of their physical fitness and are slowly losing strength and size each year. These roe bucks will also display other visible signs of aging, which you can read about in detail in our article on how to determine the age of a roe buck.
A nice roe buck displaying the red fur coat of the early season and his antlers show that he has been actively participating in the rut.
If the hunter is conducting careful population management, it is best to leave the ascending bucks of the highest quality to live and continue breeding. Instead, over the summer and off-season, the careful hunter will examine his hunting grounds to get a good feel for how the population is composed, and will select the older, weaker bucks to cull. Culling priority is always given to sick bucks, as they can threaten the entire population with disease and outbreak. With careful population management, it is perfectly fine to take down a prime buck from time to time, as the loss of that individual will not be damaging to a strong and healthy deer population.
Around late summer is when deer are said to enter the rut, the breeding season. The rut will occur in slightly different times depending on the geography and climate, so while a German or Polish roe buck stalker can expect the rut to be over by beginning of August, a Swedish colleague can still experience the rut in the northern climates well into the month. The rut is a spectacle of nature that is amazing to witness, as roe deer bucks will clash with each other to fight over the rights to mate with certain females. They will leave visible signs in nature, such as “roe rings” which are caused when the roe buck is pursuing his mate in the bushes and other territorial markings made with their antlers. All deer will be quite excitable during and around the rut, which is why calling is such an effective tool for deer hunters to learn. By imitating the sound of a female doe, which is a quite high pitched squeaking noise mixed with a more nasal sound, you can usually lure any surrounding bucks closer. Startled and suspicious roe deer bucks will make a barking sound however, very similar to a dog. All of these sounds and happenings produce quite eventful and dramatic hunts for the aspiring deer stalker.
Stalking is an excellent hunting form for our young hunters to tag along on, due to its active nature and good chances of spotting a range of wild game which keeps the impatient little ones happy and engaged.
Shot placement on roe deer bucks
All species of deer will exhibit the same vital areas but they obviously vary with the size of the particular deer you are hunting. Roe deer are among the smaller deer types and so the vital organs and lethal areas are smaller than on, for example, a fallow deer. The lethal areas are the heart and lungs, the neck and the brain. A shot that strikes these areas will produce a kill, but there are more things to consider. In Scandinavian hunting traditions, shots to the head and neck are generally avoided and the ethics of hunting are quite firmly insisting on shots to the heart and lungs. As the roe buck carries nice antlers that are desirable trophies to remember your hunts by, it also quite uncommon anywhere in the world to risk destroying a potential trophy by striking the head of the deer. Aiming just an inch or so behind the shoulder (towards the "center" of the body) in terms of the horizontal axis will ensure you strike the animal cleanly without impacting the thicker bones of the shoulder. An early bone impact will result in a very violent expansion of the bullet immediately and hence a lot of the hydrostatic shock will occur outside of the vital organs. The shot will often times still be lethal, but you run the risk of having to track the buck as he can travel quite a distance before the heart and lungs give out. Placing the shot behind the shoulder ensures that the bullet penetrates cleanly before expanding, delivering full effect on target.
The recommended equipment for successfully stalking a roe deer buck will vary depending on how you plan to conduct the hunt. Typically, a hunter will spend many hours stalking for just a few seconds of opportunity at a clean shot, so our equipment needs to help us conduct those hours while maximizing our efficiency in those few moments. Roe buck stalking is commonly thought of as an active form of hunting, where you first traverse the land on foot to track and eventually locate the buck. But many hunters also conduct their buck hunts from a stand that overlooks a point of interest for the roe deer. Depending on the size and topology of the hunting grounds and, of course, the skill and experience of the hunter, it can be just as effective to hunt from a stand as it is to actively track and stalk the buck.
It can be quite hot, well over 30 degrees Celsius during the late summer and early fall. Layered clothing principles will serve you well, and it will probably be hot even then. As roe deer have excellent smell and hearing, the use of a scent blocker could potentially be useful. Their eyesight is less fine, and they have trouble seeing details. This means that camouflaged clothing is optional, it is rather more important that you do not break the silhouette against your background. To reiterate, rather than looking like a tree, its best if you can be close to a tree as you will melt into the general shape from the point of view of a deer buck. This means that covering your hands and face with gloves and some type of item of clothing can be beneficial as the naked hand or face can alert the deer more easily to your movements.
Boots are recommended, although the most seasoned deer hunters will sometimes wear stalking socks to minimize noise pollution. The beginning hunter will probably have more fun and an easier time wearing proper hunting boots while stalking roe bucks.
Despite the heat factor it is not recommended to use shorts or short-sleeve tops as stalking roe deer means you will be entering tick country. The tick is a dangerous insect that will be very difficult for you to spot on your legs or arms or even dark clothing, so it is best to be vaccinated and to cover your limbs fully. Always make sure to check yourself after a day of stalking in the outdoors!
If actively tracking and stalking, the use of a shooting stick or some-such aid will be extremely helpful to ensure clean and safe shooting. You never know where you will end up on a stalk or if there will be shot support available, so it is best to bring it with you. Heat, fatigue and the tension of the hunt can all affect your shooting ability by the time an opportunity presents itself to take down a buck, so the shooting stick is not just a safety measure but a performance tool. If hunting from a stand, the stand itself will suffice as shot support.
The second important accessory is your optical tools. On a deer stalking hunt you have to be ready for any situation, you will likely encounter several bucks or you are not quite sure if the one you are looking at is actually your desired target. Roe buck stalking is a precision enterprise, and we want to know exactly which type of buck we are dealing with before deciding to pull the trigger. A good set of binoculars has to be considered as a staple in the hunter’s toolbox, along with a proper rifle scope.
Thirdly, depending on where you are in the hunting calendar, a deer call can be a very efficient tool. During the rut, many hunters will ditch the rifle and go out into the woods simply to practice calling in bucks. Calling is a skill and an inexperienced hunter will probably scare more bucks than attract them however. As the season progresses, the call loses effectiveness as bucks are aware that the mating season is over and territories have been established. The type of calling you can perform later in a season is different.
Roe bucks can be dragged out solo by the average hunter, especially if field dressed. Grabbing the antlers, head or neck is doable, but it can be tough on the hands so it is advisable that you bring some rope. Speaking of field dressing, the hunter will of course want to carry a knife suitable to field dressing as well as some surgical gloves for hygiene and comfort. These knives are usually smaller than what is commonly seen, larger blades tend to be unwieldy on roe bucks. Finally, while some hunters take scent-blocking very seriously, the rookie or inexperienced hunter will be well served by some mosquito repellant, especially if hunting from a stand. It’s no fun and can ruin and entire hunt if you are being swarmed by mosquitos and other bugs to the point where you can no longer focus on the hunt.
Guns and ammunition for roe buck stalking
The dedicated roe buck stalker will have a dedicated rifle for this type of hunting, but the available and acceptable types are very numerous. This is of course always a question of budget and dedication to craft for the hunter. For example in Sweden where the 6.5-55 Swedish Mauser is still very popular and legal on big game such as moose, most hunters will use the same rifle and maybe tweak their choice of ammunition to a lower bullet weight. In terms of stopping power, the 6.5mm to 7mm bullet diameter range will be the best all-around choice if you intend to get a rifle that can handle other game as well. 7,62mm or .30-caliber as they are also designated, will be fine as well but to go beyond that for a dedicated roe buck stalking rifle is probably redundant.
The small, light-weight but super-fast calibers such as your .222 Remington or a .243 Winchester will work very well, but are not capable (and depending on geography, not legal) on larger game than roe deer. Many rifle manufacturers today offer guns with changeable barrels, so having a lighter caliber option in combination with a 7+ mm option will cover any wild game you can hunt in the northern hemisphere. They will produce less meat waste for the hunter whose primary concern is harvesting meat. The flat shooting projectiles in this caliber range is also quite nice for the stalking hunter from a ballistic standpoint.
When it comes to selecting a cartridge or projectile for roe buck stalking, your choices are even wider. Depending on the country and/or area, it is becoming more and more common to see lead bullets banned from use. Thankfully, even the lighter bullet weights of lead-free projectiles work very well on smaller sized game such as roe bucks. When deciding on a bullet for roe buck stalking, a good starting point is to at the very least use a 3,2 gram bullet with a minimum of 800 Joules of impact energy at 100 meters, which is also the legal requirement for a class 2 firearm by Swedish law. That is to be considered the very minimum. The beginner hunter is probably going to want more power than that, and can safely and ethically move up to and well beyond a 10 gram bullet and 2000 Joules of impact energy at 100 meters. As roe deer stalking is a specialized form of hunting, what choice of ammunition you ultimately land on should be predicated on your ability, requirements and preference. Some suggestions:
Long range roe deer stalking with little cover and subsequently greater shot distances: Norma BONDSTRIKE 6,5 Creedmoor
Close range experienced buck hunter with the use of calling: Norma Oryx .243 Winchester
Hunter who also uses his rifle for hunts on bigger game and driven hunting: Norma TIPSTRIKE 308 Winchester
A lead-free roe deer hunter looking for stopping power: Norma ECOSTRIKE 7mm Remington Magnum
Stalking that elusive roe buck
Now that we have our basic gear ready and some initial idea of stalking roe deer bucks, it’s time to actually get out there and hunt. As with any hunting method or activity, preparation is key and the careful study and practice of general hunting skills will help you get more out of each stalking trip.
General tips on stalking roe deer
As always, stalking is about closing the distance between you and the wild game without alerting them to your presence. The most important aspects to this are scent, noise and gait. Roe deer have excellent hearing and sense of smell, so you firstly need to figure out how the wind will carry your scent as you are walking through the targeted area. This takes practice for any hunter, but over time it will become second nature and automatic as you stalk, you will feel and see the wind shift. It is paramount to be silent while you stalk, so you have to pace your gait. It’s not generally useful to get to an empty area quickly if you alert every living creature of your presence while stalking there, it means that the game will be cautious and less likely to make a visible appearance. Cautious game is always a more difficult task to take down cleanly, as they will be very quick to escape if they are on high alert. A quick flash of sunlight reflecting from your barrel will send a weary buck running instantly, whereas they are more relaxed and likely to ignore such signs if they have no suspicion of human presence. A popular and very useful tip to salvage a situation like that with an escaping buck is to make a sudden noise, many seasoned deer hunters will give a quick whistle. More times than not, the buck will stop running and try to figure out what that was, giving you a few seconds to get a shot off if the buck is presenting his vital areas.
The buck is often shy to come out while the doe is quicker to head out on the grazing field.
Where to hunt roe bucks
As with most wild game, the male of the species will actually be more coy and shy to show himself out in the open. There is an old hunters adage that says where there is a doe, the buck will follow, but as experienced buck hunters know, he won’t always reveal himself. There are two major lessons for this, one is the general area in which you should try and stalk and the second one is how to behave in the direct vicinity of the deer. If you spot a doe, you can be sure that there are bucks in her surrounding territory, and that it is a good spot to stalk. Check for any natural crossings, feeding / watering areas and places to hide or shelter that are adjacent, as you will not want to disturb those while stalking.
While the doe is grazing the field, the buck will often choose to stay hidden in the nearby bush and wait for darker conditions until he joins her.This is where patience comes into play. Try to listen for any audible signs of buck presence in hidden areas close to the doe. If you are stalking an area and can not locate a doe where you have previously confirmed them to be, it’s up to your experience as a hunter to determine the viability of this spot. Maybe your scent spread unfavourably with the changing winds as you were stalking.
Best times to stalk roe bucks
As with most hunting, early mornings at the break of dawn and later in the evening as the dusk settles are generally when you have the best chance to spot a roe buck. During the day, they stay mostly hidden and inactive. This of course depends on the hunting calendar and local population of roe deer. A fiercely competitive and dense population of bucks will be active at all hours of the day during the rut. The intensity of deer activity generally fades with the cooler temperatures of the later months, where driven hunting becomes more popular. Keep track of your local rules and regulations, seasoned hunters often remark at a roe buck’s ability to show himself just as the time for a legal shot has passed, as if the deer was wearing a watch!
This buck has finally dared to join his doe out on the field, the summer fur with it's more colorfull hue has all but faded which indicates that we are moving closer into the winter season.
Robert Goldberg Digital Analyst at Norma Precision